Flying has been a big part of my life for over 40 years from Props to Jets, Military, Commercial, Private, Recreational and Sport. My licenses include:
- FAA Airline Transport Pilot (ATP): Type Rated in B-747, DC-9, and Airbus 320
- FAA Certified Flight Instructor Instrument (CFII)
- FAA Multi-Engine Instructor (MEI)
- FAA Remote Pilot Small UAS
Below is a chronological account of my time up in the air.
This was the airplane I trained on to earn my Private Pilot License in the late 1970s. I trained at Capitol City Airport (KCXY) near Middletown, Pennsylvania as I was finishing my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. It was a two-seat, economical airplane.
And, on my long solo cross country, I landed at the wrong airport. My instructor was not impressed when I returned. Read about how it happened here. The airplane cost $20.00 an hour and $10.00 an hour for an instructor. Pretty good bargain considering today’s costs.
After obtaining my Private License, I wanted to take more than one passenger, so I got checked out in the four-seat Skyhawk at CXY (I believe it was either the K or L model). I took my first load of passengers to the Reading Air Show.
It was a nerve-racking flight into a busy pattern with three passengers on board. Pressed my limits for sure!
Over my flying career, I flew subsequent variants of the C-172 several times and always enjoyed this simple well-made airplane.
Photo Credit: By FlugKerl2 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Not much difference from the C-150; a few upgrades and just newer with a better engine.
After earning my degree, I joined the USAF in late 1977. They did not have any pilot slots, but I was promised a pilot slot if I took training as a navigator. I trusted them.
I flew the C-152 first in 1979 in Sacramento, California when I was stationed at Mather Air Force base as a navigator student.
Photo Credit: MilborneOne – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
As USAF Navigator Students, we were given six flights in the two-seat T-37B to assess our ability to navigate low level. A rated USAF instructor pilot was at the controls and we were assessed on our ability to maintain track and timing in the right seat. I absolutely loved it and could not wait to fly it someday.
I graduated first in my Navigator-Bombardier class and volunteered for B-52G (The Buff) duty in 1978 and was qualified in 1979 at Merced, California, then off to Goldsboro, North Carolina. Everyone told me that it was the fastest way to get to USAF pilot training. My wish was answered in less than two years. I entered UPT in 1981 and the Tweet was the first of two jets I was trained in as a USAF Pilot. Since I had my Private Pilot license already, I bypassed flight screening in the T-41 Mescalero. In the twin engine, jet powered Tweet, I learned how to take off and land, spin and get out of a spin, fly formation, low-level and shoot instrument approaches. After six months of flying her, we were basically the equivalent of a commercial, instrument rated pilot.
Later, I flew the Tweet in the Accelerated Co-Pilot Enrichment (ACE) program as a B-52 pilot in Oscoda, Michigan. Then I “volunteered” and was assigned to Del Rio, Texas where I served as a USAF T-37 Instructor Pilot after completing Pilot Instructor Training in San Antonio, Texas. T-37 instructor duty was the most rewarding flying assignment of my career.
This is the sweetest flying jet I have ever flown! It was the second airplane in the USAF Pilot Training Syllabus. We learned how to fly faster, think faster, fly advanced formation, more low-level, refine our instrument proficiency and more cross-country flights.
Later in my career, I flew the T-38 as a companion trainer when I was a U-2 Pilot at Beale AFB. And even later, I “volunteered” to go back to Del Rio, Texas near the sunset of my USAF career to instruct in the T-38. A real fun jet and great memories.
For a very brief, but moving and nostalgic look at the entire pilot training experience view this short film. For Rod McKuen’s “The Sky” advance to the 4:00 mark.
After earning my USAF Pilot Wings, I volunteered to go back to the Strategic Air Command (SAC), since I was really (in the personnel system) considered a SAC resource. I received my first choice of B-52 bases (Oscoda Michigan) after one more trip to Merced, California and another qualification school at Combat Crew Training School.
The Buff was a monster of an airplane and we stood nuclear alert on seven day shifts with the crew of six ready at a moment’s noticed. SAC taught me attention to detail, and we had a saying – “the reward for excellence, was less punishment.” I loved the airplane.
I was close to upgrading to Aircraft Commander, but then was “volunteered” under an Air Training Command (ATC) exchange program and was assigned to Del Rio, Texas where I served as a USAF T-37 Instructor Pilot. That assignment (see above) in the Tweet was the most rewarding of my USAF career.
I left the Buff but would be back one more time to SAC (although I did not know it at the time).
U-2R Dragon Lady
Toward the end of my T-37 ATC Exchange assignment, I faced a return to SAC and third assignment to the Buff. My T-37 Squadron Commander encouraged and helped me to apply for an interview to the U-2 (at that time in SAC). After a two-week interview, I passed muster and was granted a training slot as a U-2 pilot. The first week of the interview was just that; interview with a dozen or so people to determine fit for the program.
Once they liked you and if you said you liked them (they asked you), you were given up to three flights in a two-seat version of the U-2C to assess your flying ability. They scared me a bit after the second flight when they told me I was not getting a third flight; but then told me I passed on the second flight. Then an astronaut type physical, a final record check at the highest levels and an eventual class date. It was the most unique assignment I had in my career. We deployed 60-90 days at a time to hot spots and detachments, then came home and flew the T-38, did emergency training in the U-2 and then went back out to fly U-2 missions.
She will be 65 years old in 2020 and is still flying. During this assignment, I decided to get my Certified Flight Instructor rating at the USAF Aero Club.
El Camino and Mustang
I operated these as a licensed pilot during my time as a U-2 pilot, passing a USAF check ride in them. When not flying, I was a backup pilot for launching and recovery operations. If the primary pilot could not go due to physical/medical reasons, I became the mission pilot. With speeds better than 100 mph, we coached the mission pilot down with verbal cues on landing and kept watch while he/she was airborne. When I arrived as a U-2 pilot in 1987, the El Caminos were there, but we were integrating 5.0 Liter Mustangs, so I got to drive both. Here is a video of typical chase car operations.
The U-2 base had an Aero Club and I decided to pursue my Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) license. One of the requirements to get a CFI license was to demonstrate competency in left and right spins.
I took the training and completed the requirements in this airplane. It was leased back to the aero club by a fellow U-2 pilot who was the owner. We had a good time on that flight.
While I never flew it again, it was a memorable experience.
Photo Credit: By Arpingstone – Own work, Public Domain
The bulk of my preparation for my initial CFI was done in this airplane.
It was my first real entry into a low wing, piston powered aircraft. We spent a lot of time with me practicing from the right seat “playing instructor” for my instructor who was chief pilot at the Aero Club.
This aircraft was like the one I would take my check ride with the FAA; but was less expensive and more available. It was a fixed propeller and fixed gear aircraft.
Pretty simple machine.
Photo Credit: Own Work Adrian Pingston
This was the airplane I flew for final preps for my initial CFI check ride in Lincoln, California. It is considered a complex airplane by the FAA. It had retractable gear, a 200 HP engine and a constant speed propeller that required learning some new skills.
Then, I had to fly with an FAA Inspector to demonstrate I could fly and instruct at the same time in the civilian world. That was after a 4-hour ground evaluation with the inspector. I passed, but today it still stands at the toughest check ride I ever had. And, to boot, my instructor who prepared me for the check ride sat next to me through the ground evaluation. No extra pressure of course!
Photo credit: Huhu Uet.
I continued to instruct at the Beale AFB Aero Club in my free time.
To the various PA-28 models, the C-150, and the C-172, I added the T-41 Mescalero to my list.
It was basically the military version of the C-172 as the USAF had allowed the Aero Clubs to use surplus aircraft like this.
It seemed a bit beefier, more spartan in nature, but had a cool paint job, and flying it around, I think it got more respect.
Photo Credit: USAF Museum
So, I did not get to fly this airplane, but flew in it with a Hogan’s Hero sort of crew in Cyprus.
I was stationed there as a U-2 pilot and got to know the Brits there. They invited me to go on a mission with them and it was a blast.
The mission of this bird was basically submarine hunting. We had a blast. The Brits know how to party as well.
Photo Credit: RAF
Another opportunity to fly with the Brits in Cyprus. It is a two-person bomber closely related to the B-57. I was invited to fly aboard this. There is one set of controls and the other seat is a navigator station slightly to the right, but below the pilot. I stood on the navigator seat and my upper body and head was just to the right of the pilot as we flew. The mission of the Canberra in Cyprus was to tow “the rag.” The rag was a 300’ x 75’ (or so) piece of white canvas that the Tornados would shoot at.
The Tornados each had different color rounds. Once the shooting was complete, we dropped the rag over the runway. The ground crew would retrieve it and count the colors and score the pilots. Once we dropped it and were no longer targets, the fun began. The aircraft flew much faster now. We went back over the Mediterranean and yanked and banked. Then the pilot found the Shackleton flying that morning. As I stood on the navigator seat looking out, there it was in the distance. And now what? As we closed in on her, he did a barrel roll around her! My only standing barrel roll in my career!
Photo Credit: SAC A K Benson
It was time to say goodbye to the U-2 and move onto a staff job, that meant desk duty – non-flying.
I picked one that had some associated flying opportunities in Cocoa Beach Florida. The duties included liaisons with some sensors for the U-2 and B-52 along with another aircraft, the WC-135B.
Although I did not get to pilot the WC-135B, I was an Operations Officer in the back of the airplane coordinating crew activities. While I was there, I joined the Patrick AFB Aero Club and instructed to keep my currency.
At the club, I flew more of the Warriors and an occasional C-172 flight.
The Saratoga was the most complex aircraft the Patrick Club had. I did not do much flying in it, but a lot of folks took her to the Bahamas.
It was a retractable gear, six-place aircraft that flew very stable.
Other than that, I do not remember much about it, other than it seemed to be down for maintenance quite a bit.
Photo Credit: FlugKerl2
PA-28-161 Warrior II
At Patrick AFB, I instructed in a more modern (at that time) and powerful version of the Warrior I had flown previously.
Not much different, just a little bit newer.
Still fixed gear and standard instrumentation.
This one was Instrument capable, which was nice.
Back to the T-38 Talon, then back to a bunch of propellers!
After a second staff tour at Kelly AFB in San Antonio with the Air Force Intelligence Agency, where I did not get time to fly at all, I volunteered to go back to flying jets. Back to Del Rio, Texas as a T-38 Instructor Pilot. That was nice and got me back to the blue part of the USAF. I loved teaching students to fly this jet and it was very rewarding. The town of Del Rio seemed like a western outpost – it was.
But, one final tour and a few more airplanes to fly. Since I had had become a member of two Aero Clubs already, I applied for the Director of Operations and Safety for the USAF Aero Club system, later changed to USAF Flight Training Centers. When I arrived on the job, there were 33 clubs and 425 aircraft assigned. Upon arrival there were two separate crashes at overseas locations a few weeks apart. Welcome aboard! All in all, I was in heaven and set out to support the managers and fly as many aircraft as I could and then had enough and retired. The USAF leadership did not feel Aero Clubs were viable – too much risk for too few people served. They started the process to close the weaker ones down and today there are only around a dozen left.
After the relaxing of small aircraft liability regulations, the manufacturers ramped up production again. The USAF Aero Club system made a mass purchase of these newly minted C-172R models and leased them back to individual clubs.
The program was mildly successful, but not wholly embraced. In any event, it was nice to see new technology in a tried and true airframe.
I got to tour the factory in Kansas as part of my new position, and throughout my final tour in the USAF got to fly this airplane quite a bit.
This Socata model was my primary cross-country aircraft that I used to visit Aero Clubs that were in the United States when able to do so.
It had retractable gear, a 250 HP engine and a constant speed propeller. I really liked this airplane and it flew like a little sports car.
I flew this airplane a couple times in California. It was a surplus Navy training aircraft that was fun to fly.
The club in California had a couple of them and they were very popular. Because of their age, they were constantly under inspections.
At one time there was a wing spar problem with them, and the FAA grounded them until a procedure was implemented.
The T-34 was manufactured by Beechcraft and modeled after the Bonanza 35.
Photo Credit: March AFB Aero Club
I flew this airplane in Virginia. It is a Beechcraft Baron; a light, twin-engine introduced in the early 1960s.
At the time I flew this, I was not twin engine qualified (well I was, but had a centerline thrust restriction), so I flew with the chief pilot who acted as pilot in command.
I thought the aircraft handled very well and it was time for me to get my multi-engine instructor ratings.
Photo Credit: San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Public Domain
I flew this airplane in early 1999 to become proficient enough to obtain my multi-engine civilian rating and have my centerline thrust limitation removed from my T-38 civilian equivalency license.
The course was quick, and I earned my Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) rating.
It consisted of studying the airplane systems, learning to perform the required maneuvers in two flights, then taking a ground evaluation and a check ride flown to airline standards.
Grumman GA-7 Cougar
I flew this airplane to prepare for my Multi-Engine Instructor (MEI) rating.
I took three flights in it and was ready for my check ride in early 2000.
It seemed like an easy airplane to fly although we had quite a few maintenance issues with the airplane.
However, that helped me understand the airplane a bit more as I got to interact with the mechanics.
In Japan, one of our Aero Clubs had somewhat of a rare bird; a retractable C-172.
I made it a point to take that one for a spin around the area with the chief pilot during an inspection.
Nice flying airplane and a lot quieter with the gear up than a regular C-172.
Here is one pictured with the gear in transit.
Photo Credit: Alex Herbort
Beechcraft C24R Sierra 200
I had one flight in this type of aircraft at an AFB in Valparaiso, Florida during a staff visit. I don’t remember much about this aircraft except that I did not like the way it handled.
The aircraft I flew in 1999 (N38209) later crashed with two fatalities in 2011 in a landing accident and was destroyed.
I attempted a project to modernize the Aero Club fleet for safety. I pulled a good cross section of the managers together and we ran a one-week meeting in San Antonio to come up with strategies for the future.
It was 2000 and we entitled it Vision2020. One workable idea that came out of it was to work with the Advanced General Aviation Transport Experiment (AGATE) division of NASA.
An outshoot of this was for me to fly a Mooney (with updated avionics) for a few days across the country with one of their pilots. This was an example of the kind of aircraft we wanted to bring to the Aero Club system: take proven aircraft and update them with technology. To this day, Sid of AGATE and I are good friends.
Photo Credit: – Own work, Public Domain
As I was getting ready to retire from the USAF, I had some job offers.
One included being a director for a civilian fight school.
During this period, I got to fly this airplane.
It did handle responsively, but I really did not care for it as it seemed under-powered and too light for the job.
In any case, I was ready to move on to the airlines and away from civilian flight training.
Photo Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0
Best of Times for Flying Light Aircraft
Added to the dozen or so different Aero Club aircraft I was able to fly pictured above, there was the usual lineup of PA-28s, C-150s, C-152s, C-172s, and T-41s from my past. It was the best of times for flying light aircraft.
Travels during this tour took me to almost all Aero Clubs and some stops in between, including two bases in Japan; a base near Seoul South Korea; Lakenheath England; Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska; Belleville, Illinois; Dover, Delaware; Bedford Massachusetts; Kokomo, Indiana; Paducah, Kentucky; Newport News, Virginia; Montgomery, Alabama; Marietta, Georgia; Panama City, Cocoa Beach and Valparaiso, Florida; Albuquerque and Alamogordo, New Mexico; Charleston and Sumter, South Carolina; Fairborn, Ohio; Fairfield, Lancaster, Marysville and Riverside, California; Shreveport, Louisiana; and finally Memphis, Tennessee to work with my counterpart in the USN Flying Clubs.
It is now time to retire and try out the commercial airline field!
Once the word was out that I was retiring a U-2 buddy of mine called me and asked if I wanted to fly the 747. Are you kidding? YES.
I was on a plane two weeks later and accepted for training at Atlas Air. I earned a B-747 type rating through them.
I will never forget my first takeoff! It was mostly night flying; unscheduled freight and the schedule was 14 days on and 14 off.
I had applications in at the passenger airlines and 8 months into this job, American Airlines called. Atlas was very gracious to me.
I was the oldest in my American Airlines class and got my first pick.
I picked the brand new 737 model based at Chicago.
Although I did not like commuting from San Antonio, I figured it was the fastest way to get based in Dallas.
I remember flying a plane that was on its first revenue flight. Smelled like a new car. The coat hangers were still bundled up with rubber bands and the cockpit was pristine.
After my six-month lock in to the 737, I was able to bid for another airplane and I chose to be sent to the smaller, less paying, Fokker 100, so I could be based at Dallas. It worked.
This airplane was fun to fly. It could actually take off without flaps under some conditions. It only took 100 passengers and was nicknamed the Barbie Jet. I was now based in Dallas, and although still on reserve, life was much easier.
And then 911 happened. I hung on for two more years until the inevitible furlough notice.
A more rugged, more powerful version of the C-172. A friend of mine had one and I flew with him.
It is a solid feeling aircraft and if I were to buy an airplane, this model would be on the top of the list.
And, to make it even better, add floats and it makes a great floatplane!
Cirrus is a new manufacturer that pioneered the use of a ballistic recovery system (parachute for the airplane in case of emergency) as standard equipment.
Cirrus was giving CFIs demo rides and I took one in this model. It flies nice and is fast.
Modern avionics make it very appealing, but the price tag is high for an airplane that cannot retract the gear.
Photo Credit: FlugKerl2
Progressive Aerodyne SeaRey
At Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland Florida, I took a demo ride in one of these.
Previously, I had an order in for a new Icon A-5 Amphibious plane that was having production problems, which I later canceled.
So, the SeaRey seemed like a good choice. I liked the tail wheel design of the SeaRey versus the tricycle design of the Icon.
The SeaRey handled extremely well and if I were going to buy a light amphib, this would be at the top of the list.
Photo Credit: CC BY-SA 4.0
During my furlough from American Airlines, I worked as a Navy contractor supporting an acquisition program.
American Airlines called me back at the 3.5 year mark, but I deferred due to pay and basing in New York – Ugh! I stayed with the Navy Contractor position for ten years.
While most of my work was security oriented, I was invited by the commander to fly on a mission.
Yes, now that the statute of limitations has expired, I will admit that I got a bit of flying time in the left seat! There is a reason she is called the Rhino!
DC-9 (MD-80) aka Mad Dog
So, after ten years as a Navy contractor, it is time go back to American Airlines.
The pay improved, the basing was at Dallas and I was ready. I picked the Mad Dog as my choice to be in Dallas.
I was again, the oldest in my re-hire class, so first choice. What a handful of an airplane.
Lot’s of old technology to learn again. Too many levers and switches. But a fun airplane to fly and lots of good memories flying to many interesting places I had not been.
The Mad Dogs were scheduled for retirement, and I had a bid into the next airplane. But their retirement kept getting pushed back, so I was withheld from training. My award was to the Airbus 320 family of airplanes just 10 months before my own mandatory retirement.
I could have worked to reject the training slot due my upcoming retirement, but what the hell, let’s see if an old dog can learn new tricks. Glad I did it. It was neat to learn something new. Airbus flew differently than Boeing, but it was fun.
At the end of training, the check airman noticed I would retire in 7 months; he said he thought I should be sent for a drug test – saying I was crazy going through the training this late in my career. I didn’t care. I loved it right up until the end. I landed 1 hour and 20 minutes before the clock struck midnight the night before my 65th birthday. Yes, I planned it that way.